|Dr. Barbara Hutchinson|
A TOBAGO-BORN cardiologist is enjoying major success in the United States.
St Augustine campus graduate Dr Barbara Hutchinson this year earned five prestigious awards in Maryland, where she has a thriving cardiology practice. They were:
• The Daily Record Innovator Award;
• Chesapeake Favorite Top Doc;
• Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise in the Mid Atlantic Area;
• Enterprising Women of the Year Award Winner;
• Cardiologist in Anne Arundel County given by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The awards were bestowed on Hutchinson, the owner and managing partner of Chesapeake Cardiac Care in Maryland, for improving the quality of life of her patients, while at the same time running a successful business.
They follow her recognition five years ago of the link between sleep, breathing disorders and heart diseases, and the unusual step she took to address the problem by opening that state's first sleep lab in a cardiology clinic.
Though humbled by the recognition her work has achieved, for Hutchinson the one which gave her the greatest satisfaction was The Daily Record Innovator Award because it "culminated what I have been doing for the last five years".
That award was established by The Daily Record, the leading business and legal newspaper in Maryland, to honour those who have created a product, service or process that has had a positive effect on their business, industry or community.
Hutchinson told the Express: "This award made me realise that someone recognises the journey that I have undertaken over the last five years to bring this whole sleep management programme to fruition."
Hutchinson, whose maiden name was Alexander before her marriage to Jamaica-born Merton, a doctor of pharmacy, took this innovative treatment route after recognising a number of patients who were receiving conventional treatment continued to struggle. That led her to examine the medical literature and other sources pointing to the role of sleep.
"If sleep disorders are not diagnosed, efforts to alleviate high blood pressure, hypertension and arrhythmias can be ineffective," Hutchinson explained.
"Sleep-related problems that are untreated can result in uncontrolled high blood pressure. So while we are treating high blood pressure with medications, if we don't get to the true cause of it, we'll be spinning our wheels," she added.
"What I was able to do over the five years was to marry those two together in a cardiology practice. And that is recognising the link between sleep, breathing disorders and cardiovascular disease," she said.
"We have a whole sleep management programme, where there is a sleep lab that you can do sleep studies; if you're positive [for sleep apena] you can be treated with different equipment. We work with dentists to give patients a dental appliance and we even work with ear, nose and throat specialists because some patients may have problems that can be treated surgically, that could affect their sleep problems,"said Hutchinson.
Since February, more than 200 patients have spent the night at the lab with its two bedrooms outfitted like cozy guest rooms, with soothing colours and comfortable mattresses under the watchful eye of a polysomnographer, who monitors brain waves, heart rhythm, respiration, oxygenation and other measurements.
By treating those sleep-related complications it has enabled her to maximise treatment of her patients' cardiovascular situation.
Though buoyed by her professional success, Hutchinson still yearns to assist her native Tobago.
"I'm looking forward to the day that I can give back, especially to Tobago. There is not a day that goes by in my professional life where I don't think of the fact that the little island that I'm from does not have a resident cardiologist. The first opportunity I have to give back, to work there, I would certainly grant that opportunity."
She said until that time she would use telemedicine—medical consultation via the Internet—to offer assistance from her Maryland base.
Hutchinson, who spent this Christmas in Tobago with siblings—Beverley Nola Adams, a civil engineer with Nipdec, and Colonel Lyle Alexander, the Commanding Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Reserves—attributes her late parents' guidance by instilling the right values, and belief in God, for her success.
"My parents (Methodist church stalwarts Dowling and Mirie Alexander) always kept me grounded and one of the things I know they would say now is, 'we're very proud of you, but please don't forget who has enabled you to accomplish all of this.'
"[So] when I think about these awards, I think about what my parents instilled in me as a child and that is, whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. And most of all, always praise the one who sustains you—put God first."
Hutchinson, who also got a PhD in cardiovascular pharmacology from Howard University in Washington, DC, before attending the University of Maryland medical school, where she was class president and the first black chief resident in internal medicine, hopes her recent accolades would be a source of inspiration to Trinidad and Tobago youth.
"When I think of growing up in Tobago, going to school at Ebenezer Methodist, then Bishop's High School before going onto St Francois Girls' College in Belmont to complete my O-Levels and Advanced Levels... [should] give all those students out there the drive that they know they can accomplish the same thing."
—Sanka Price is an editor with
The Nation newspaper in Barbados.